Over the last four recruiting classes, Duke has brought in a treasure trove of elite one-and-done talent. Mike Krzyzewski landed such blue-chip prospects as Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum – all of whom chose to leave Duke after their freshmen year. After a tumultuous 2016-17 campaign, Duke reloaded once again by adding likely one-in-doners in Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell Carter to this year’s recruiting class.
That said, it is easy to forget that in the early days of the one-and-done era Duke struggled to land prospects of this caliber. Many pundits felt that other big-name schools, namely Kentucky and North Carolina, had overtaken the Blue Devils as the most desirable destinations for cream of the crop talent.
Although Coach K led his squad to the national title in 2010, he did so mainly with third- and fourth-year players who were unlikely to make a significant impact at the NBA level. This was right on the heels of failing to land future elite prospects Greg Monroe, John Wall and Harrison Barnes in Duke’s 2008, 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes, respectively.
With the Blue Devils capturing the 2015 national title with the help of several one-and-done players, some used this as evidence to argue that Duke had in fact made significant changes to their recruiting procedures.
Coach K disagrees.
“People say that we’ve changed our recruiting philosophy,” the legendary coach told ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” on Tuesday. “We haven’t changed our recruiting philosophy. We’ve always recruited really good players who are good students and good kids, and now that combination has produced one-and-dones. Grant Hill and Elton Brand, Elton Brand was a two-and-done. We’ve had a number of guys who early on, like 10, 20 years ago, they would be one-and-dones right now. So that’s who we have attracted. We’re not going to stop recruiting them, but it doesn’t mean we’ve changed our philosophy. The world of basketball has changed, and we’re trying to adapt to those changes.”
Krzyzewski is right. Duke has not made any seismic changes to its recruiting strategies in the last five years, but instead relied on a confluence of factors to help the program become sought after by elite high school players once again.
Most significantly, Coach K took advantage of his former role as head coach of Team USA. Rubbing shoulders with NBA stars such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul significantly elevated Krzyzewski’s perception in the eyes of high school players around the country.
As The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported back in September 2014, “without the access of USA Basketball, there’s a strong belief within the basketball community that Krzyzewski would’ve never landed Jabari Parker. Only, he had it, used it and signed him.”
It will be interesting to see how future Duke recruiting classes will be affected now that Krzyzewski has stepped down as head coach of USA Basketball after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Aside from USA Basketball, Duke has benefited from the academic fraud scandal that rocked North Carolina hoops in 2015 due to an investigation into questionable African Studies classes. With the possibility of serious NCAA sanctions looming over the Tar Heels, top prospects were hesitant to commit to playing for head coach Roy Williams.
Back in 2015, future Duke standout Brandon Ingram acknowledged that he would have likely been a Tar Heel if it wasn’t for the possibility of NCAA sanctions for the program.
“I think I would have,” Ingram said. “I liked them a lot. But I’m kind of glad that I waited.”
Finally, the hiring of recruiting ace Jeff Capel III as associate head coach in 2011 helped put Duke in position to entice top prospects. Capel, a former Blue Devils guard, made coaching stops at Oklahoma and VCU and was at the forefront of the recruiting campaigns for players such as Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Winslow, Okafor and Jones.
Coach K has remained steadfast over the years that his program has never altered its institutional recruiting philosophy of emphasizing character as the most important indicator for a player’s future success.
While the truth behind this assertion is up for debate, the reason for Duke’s recent recruiting success is primarily due to some shrewd positioning and hiring by Coach K, as well as some good-old-fashioned luck along the way.